8.2.2. Backup Software: Buy Versus Build

In order to perform backups, it is first necessary to have the proper software. This software must not only be able to perform the basic task of making copies of bits onto backup media, it must also interface cleanly with your organization's personnel and business needs. Some of the features to consider when reviewing backup software include:
  • Schedules backups to run at the proper time
  • Manages the location, rotation, and usage of backup media
  • Works with operators (and/or robotic media changers) to ensure that the proper media is available
  • Assists operators in locating the media containing a specific backup of a given file
As you can see, a real-world backup solution entails much more than just scribbling bits onto your backup media.
Most system administrators at this point look at one of two solutions:
  • Purchase a commercially-developed solution
  • Create an in-house developed backup system from scratch (possibly integrating one or more open source technologies)
Each approach has its good and bad points. Given the complexity of the task, an in-house solution is not likely to handle some aspects (such as media management, or have comprehensive documentation and technical support) very well. However, for some organizations, this might not be a shortcoming.
A commercially-developed solution is more likely to be highly functional, but may also be overly-complex for the organization's present needs. That said, the complexity might make it possible to stick with one solution even as the organization grows.
As you can see, there is no clear-cut method for deciding on a backup system. The only guidance that can be offered is to ask you to consider these points:
  • Changing backup software is difficult; once implemented, you will be using the backup software for a long time. After all, you will have long-term archive backups that you must be able to read. Changing backup software means you must either keep the original software around (to access the archive backups), or you must convert your archive backups to be compatible with the new software.
    Depending on the backup software, the effort involved in converting archive backups may be as straightforward (though time-consuming) as running the backups through an already-existing conversion program, or it may require reverse-engineering the backup format and writing custom software to perform the task.
  • The software must be 100% reliable -- it must back up what it is supposed to, when it is supposed to.
  • When the time comes to restore any data -- whether a single file or an entire file system -- the backup software must be 100% reliable.